Thursday. 2/9/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Facebook Technologies, LLC

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

Out of office

Even the most ardent work-from-home enthusiasts will probably have to admit that, 18 months in, video calls have lost their lustre. Facebook’s proposal to sort out the ennui? Horizon Workrooms, recently launched by the technology behemoth, provides a virtual-reality office populated by avatars, talking and taking notes just as you would in a real-world meeting – only now in an ominously named “metaverse”.

I wish I could give you a hands-on review of what it feels like to attend this workplace equivalent of The Sims but I lack the $300 (€253) Oculus Quest 2 VR headset required to enjoy the experience. Instead I can only go by the images available of other people’s get-togethers, which are far from tempting. Generic, cartoonish versions of the attendees float on their chairs in a generic US-meets-Scandi office with a view out to generic mountains and pine trees. The avatars are created to replicate each person’s movements in this alternative digital reality. Interestingly, all the characters lack legs, which are reportedly too hard to render in this fantasy environment. It seems like a pretty major detail to leave out as part of the grand unveiling of a new technology that took years to develop but, after all, why bother? You don’t actually need cartoon legs to run away from this hell.

Work is a personal thing and dehumanising it, historically, hasn’t led to a great deal of satisfaction. Whether people have been forced to work remotely or are choosing to do so, this version of the future is nothing short of dystopian. Employing efficient tools to support a team (ideally temporarily) when it cannot be together is one thing. Investing in thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment so that their reality can be supplanted by a digital surrogate is quite another.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Switzerland

Stuck in the middle

In March, Vladislav Klyushin, owner of Russian firm M13 that monitors and analyses media reports, was arrested after landing in Switzerland for a family holiday in the town of Sion. This week investigators’ files seen by Swiss daily Tages-Anzeiger have shed light on a high-stakes poker game between the world’s superpowers. The arrest warrant came from the US, which accuses Klyushin of online fraud and hacking. Given that one of M13’s most important clients is the Kremlin, Russia filed its own extradition request and Klyushin offered to co-operate with the request in a bid to prevent his surrender to US authorities. Klyushin has been held in solitary confinement and under constant surveillance since his arrest. The matter was likely discussed by Biden and Putin when they met in Geneva in June (pictured). It puts the Swiss government in a tricky position but its leanings are clear: the Russian warrant has already been rejected, making it more likely that Klyushin’s gambit to return home will fail.

Image: Josema Cutillas

Design / Spain

Urban legends

For designers, architects and urban planners seeking a work-related excuse to soak up the Spanish sun before summer ends, we have just the thing. The seventh edition of design and architecture festival Concéntrico kicks off today in the city of Logroño in northern Spain and, judging by the previews, it might be the event’s best outing yet.

This year 18 teams are participating, with installations throughout the city of 150,000 and the nearby countryside. An international mix of talent sets the agenda. German creative studio 44 Flavours has contributed an eye-catching, colourful floor mural to a Logroño car park, while French artist Laurent Martin has upcycled discarded wood panelling to form a sprawling sculpture (pictured) within the city walls. Founded and run passionately by director Javier Peña Ibáñez, the event explores the future of cities through conceptual but highly enjoyable large-scale works. It runs until 5 September.

Image: Getty Images

Paralympics / Japan

Golden effort

Shingo Kunieda (pictured), Japan’s highest-profile Paralympian and current men’s wheelchair tennis world champion, is on track to win a gold medal after beating his long-time rival Stéphane Houdet from France in yesterday’s quarter-finals. Having already won 28 Grand Slam titles, Kunieda is focused not only on his personal record but also raising the profile of the Paralympics. “I want to perform above and beyond the imaginations of those who are not yet familiar with my sport,” the 37-year-old athlete told The Monocle Minute just ahead of the event. “The Paralympics are the biggest sporting event for us and every one of us has a strong feeling about the competition.” According to Kuneida, coverage has increased over his career but more can be done. “Our sports have to be attractive for the Paralympics to gain more attention,” he says. “We, the athletes, need to send a message through our performance.” In that way, he is leading by example.

Image: Alamy

Fashion / Italy

Fabric of the city

The first riveted-denim work trousers might have been patented by Levi Strauss in San Francisco in 1873, and romanticised as an icon of Americana throughout the 20th century, but the word “jeans” comes from Genoa, which is where the sturdy cotton fabric was invented. The city is today hosting the first edition of a new annual trade fair dedicated to the sustainable future of the trousers. Sponsored by denim brands Diesel and Candiani, the five-day GenovaJeans fair aims to promote the port as a commercial and cultural hub of denim innovation. It includes exhibitions and talks about the environmental effects of the production of jeans, their links to women’s empowerment and an exhibition of jeans-themed works by 36 contemporary artists. Significant pairs will be displayed everywhere from Unesco-listed palaces and museums such as the Museo Diocesano (pictured) to shop windows along the newly named Via del Jeans. Like your favourite old pair, the city’s promotion of its denim heritage looks set to be more than a one-wear wonder.

M24 / Monocle on Design

Leica, Nike and Zanat

We speak to world-renowned German camera brand Leica about its move into the mobile phone market. Plus: we hear about Nike’s sports uniform design process and get to know a Bosnian furniture brand recognised by Unesco.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle Preview: September issue

Monocle’s September issue steps inside some of the world’s biggest newsrooms, going behind the set with trusted anchors and hearing how agencies stay agile. Elsewhere there’s Saab’s latest fighter jet and the Hong Kong centre where shoppers can work up a sweat at rooftop basketball courts. Grab the issue now at The Monocle Shop.

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